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KAIEÑˀKWAAHTOÑ, chief-warrior of the lower or eastern Senecas, member of the turtle clan (the name means disappearing smoke or mist; it appears most often as spoken in Mohawk, Sayenqueraghta or Siongorochti; attempts to write the Seneca pronunciation have included Gayahgwaahdoh, Giengwahtoh, Guiyahgwaahdoh, and Kayenquaraghton; he was also known as Old Smoke, Old King, the Seneca King, and the King of Kanadesaga); b. early 18th century; d. 1786 on Smoke Creek (in present-day Lackawanna, N.Y.).

Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ was the son of a prominent Seneca chief in what is now western New York and resided for most of his life in the Seneca town of Ganundasaga (Geneva). Early in life he established a military reputation in expeditions against the Cherokees and by 1751 had apparently achieved the rank of war chief. Soon after, he began to take an active role in diplomacy with the whites, being present at negotiations in Philadelphia in July 1754 and at Easton (Pa) four years later.

It seems probable that Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ, like most of the eastern Senecas, did not espouse the French cause in the Seven Years’ War. In the summer of 1756 his brother proclaimed his own and Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ’s loyalty to the British. In January 1757 the superintendent of northern Indians, Sir William Johnson, sent Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ presents to curry his favour. The Seneca chief and a number of warriors served at Johnson’s side in the capture of Fort Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.) in 1759.

The fall of New France left the native population wholly dependent upon the British for manufactured goods. The Indians had grown accustomed to the generosity of white diplomats anxious for their allegiance, and they still expected such liberality. The British became parsimonious, however, and the result was the uprising of 1763 [see Pontiac* and Kayahsotaˀ]. The role of Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ in this confrontation is in doubt. The testimony of a Seneca, Governor Blacksnake [Thaonawyuthe*], who knew him well and who was a boy at the time, identifies him as the chief of the Seneca forces who inflicted a severe defeat on the British at the Niagara portage. Blacksnake’s memory, though generally reliable, may have failed him here, for while the Senecas were fighting the British at the carrying place, Johnson was reporting that Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ “who had ever been our freind” had been sent by the Onondagas and other Iroquois to bring the warring Senecas to peace. Other testimony also asserts that Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ was a friend of the crown during this war.

In Indian diplomacy it was normal to return a captive or two as part of peace overtures. At the close of the uprising Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ approached the Seneca family that had adopted Mary Jemison and stated that he was going to return her to the authorities at Niagara. Her foster family hid her, however, and he went to Niagara empty handed. He later found another prisoner to deliver to the British, and on 21 March 1764 he arrived with the captive at Johnson Hall (Johnstown, N.Y.). Four days after, he addressed a conference there, using the usual metaphors to declare the coming of peace. The hatchet was buried and washed by a stream to the ocean where it would be lost forever, and the dead on both sides were buried so that both British and Indians could forget the conflict. Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ’s name heads the list of Seneca chiefs on the preliminary articles of peace signed on 3 April. He also played a role in the conference at Fort Stanwix (Rome, N.Y.) which in 1768 attempted to draw a firm boundary between white settlement and Indian lands.

Between the treaty of Fort Stanwix and the outbreak of the American revolution, Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ remained in the background. He was seemingly of considerable influence among the eastern Senecas, but the focus of diplomatic activity in Indian affairs was farther west. He appeared at Johnson Hall at least twice in 1771 with news from the west, and when Guy Johnson succeeded to the post of superintendent of northern Indians he apparently cultivated the friendship of Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ in particular.

The outbreak of rebellion in the British colonies gave the ageing chief another chance to exhibit his military prowess. When the Senecas and most of the other Six Nations decided in the summer of 1777 to enter the war as allies of the British, he and Kaiũtwahˀkũ (Cornplanter) were named to lead the Senecas in the war. Since they had as many warriors as the rest of the Six Nations combined, Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ was to play an important part in the conflict. Although his advanced years compelled him to ride a horse on military expeditions, he was active throughout. Indians under his command, and the British and loyalists with whom they cooperated, ran up an impressive series of victories on the northern frontier.

Full of energy, Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ immediately left the 1777 council to harass Fort Stanwix, now a rebel-held post, which guarded the western entrance to the Mohawk valley. It was more than a month before Barrimore Matthew St Leger’s force arrived and the siege began in earnest. The Indians had been invited to smoke their pipes and watch their white allies take the fort, but on 5 August word arrived from Mary Brant [Koñwatsiˀtsiaiéñni] that Brigadier-General Nicholas Herkimer and 800 Mohawk valley militia were advancing to raise the siege. The task of intercepting them was delegated to the Indians and a small body of loyalist troops. Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ, Cornplanter, and Joseph Brant [Thayendanegea*] were all present to lead the Six Nations warriors. The engagement at nearby Oriskany proved one of the bloodiest of the war, given the numbers involved. The rebels lost between 200 and 500 killed, and Indian losses were significant. Although Herkimer’s force was practically exterminated, the lack of siege artillery doomed the British attempt to take the fort.

Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ was again on the war trail in the summer of 1778. He, Cornplanter, and John Butler led a force of about 450 Indians and 110 rangers to attack the Wyoming valley, Pa. The first two forts they approached surrendered but the third, Forty Fort, refused to capitulate. On 3 July over 400 of its garrison marched out to challenge the attackers. After firing three volleys the rebels were outflanked by the Indians and they panicked. Their retreat became a rout and more than 300 were killed. The Indian-loyalist force lost fewer than ten. The next day Forty Fort and the remaining stockades in the valley surrendered. The eight forts and a thousand houses were burned but no civilians were harmed.

Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ seems to have spent September chasing a small rebel force under Colonel Thomas Hartley from Delaware country in the Susquehanna valley. The rebels burned two Indian towns and the two sides subsequently fought at Wyalusing, Pa, with few casualties. The Seneca chief did not participate in the other major military action of that year, the raid on Cherry Valley, N.Y. [see Walter Butler].

Late in the summer of 1779 several thousand Continental soldiers under John Sullivan, supported by artillery, invaded the Iroquois homeland. Butler, Brant, Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ, and others marshalled a small force to oppose them. Butler and Brant advised harassing the invaders while retreating slowly. Other, less wise, heads prevailed, and an attempt was made to block the enemy’s path. The rebel artillery and a strategic blunder by the Indians led to a rout, and Sullivan proceeded to burn his way through the Cayuga and Seneca country, devastating 40 villages including Ganundasaga. His army destroyed 160,000 bushels of corn, “a vast quantity” of other vegetables, and extensive orchards. The agricultural base of the Indian economy had been ravaged. With winter at hand the Iroquois, including Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ, fled to Niagara to subsist on British rations.

The devastation of their homeland did not break the spirit of the Senecas or their ancient chief. He was on the war trail again in July and August 1780 as a leader in the expedition that destroyed the Canajoharie and Normans Kill district, netting 50 or 60 prisoners. In October he was in the field again, joining Sir John Johnson* in a raid into the Schoharie valley. He may have shared command with Brant of the force which during this expedition captured 56 rebels who sallied forth from Fort Stanwix. The raiders also destroyed some 150,000 bushels of grain and burned 200 houses.

In this same year Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ, his family, and others moved their homes to Buffalo Creek. They frequently visited the British posts and on one of these occasions Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ paid his only documented visit to present-day Canada. It was reported that, after being handsomely entertained by the officers at Fort Erie (Ont.), the family was in some danger as he attempted to manœuvre his canoe back across the Niagara River.

During the war Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ and his warriors had succeeded in pushing the white frontier back almost as far as Albany but had in turn been driven from their homes to cluster about Niagara, the shores of Lake Erie, and the Allegheny River. Britain, in negotiating a peace with the Americans, chose to ignore the Iroquois who had fought at the side of her armies. A home on the Grand River (Ont.) for a portion of the Six Nations was obtained by Joseph Brant. The Senecas for the most part did not follow the Mohawk chief but remained in what is now New York state to make their own peace with the Americans. Abandoned by their British allies, they faced an aggressive and greedy American government in negotiations at Fort Stanwix in 1784. Kaieñˀkwaahtoñ was not there; he was hunting. Perhaps he chose not to attend.

He died in 1786 on Smoke Creek. Years later, Governor Blacksnake recalled him: “he was pretty tall – over 6 feet – & large in size – of a commanding figure. His eloquence was of a superior order – & in intellect he towered far above his fellows; He fully enjoyed the confidence of his people.”

Thomas S. Abler

Wis., State Hist. Soc. (Madison), Draper mss, ser.F, ser.S. Colonial records of Pa. (Hazard), V, 12 Aug. 1751, 6 Aug. 1754. Johnson papers (Sullivan et al.), IX, 588; X, 514, 519, 830; XI, 113, 139–40; XII, 626–28, 899, 912; XIII, 88. Journals of the military expedition of Major General John Sullivan against the Six Nations of Indians in 1779 . . . , ed. Frederick Cook (Auburn, N.Y., 1887). NYCD (O’Callaghan and Fernow), VII, 623; VIII, 282, 484, 506, 559, 721. Paarchives (Hazard et al.), 1st ser., III, 558; VII, 508. J. E. Seaver, A narrative of the life of Mrs. Mary Jemison . . . , intro. A. W. Trelease (New York, 1961), 68–70, 76. The Sullivan-Clinton campaign in 1779: chronology and selected documents . . . (Albany, N.Y., 1929). [William Walton], The captivity and sufferings of Benjamin Gilbert and his family, 1780–83, ed. F. H. Severance (Cleveland, Ohio, 1904), 110. G. S. Conover, Sayenqueraghta: king of the Senecas (Waterloo, N.Y., 1885), 3. Graymont, Iroquois, 167–72.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Thomas S. Abler, “KAIEÑˀKWAAHTOÑ,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 21, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/kaienkwaahton_4E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/kaienkwaahton_4E.html
Author of Article: Thomas S. Abler
Title of Article: KAIEÑˀKWAAHTOÑ
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 4
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1979
Year of revision: 1979
Access Date: September 21, 2014